In two expeditions into the Amazon Forest, São Paulo scientists collected at least 12 previously uncatalogued species of toads and lizards, in addition to an owl with no scientific description. Altogether, the group led by University of São Paulo zoologist Miguel Trefaut Rodrigues brought over 1.7 thousand specimens of over 200 animal and plant species for analysis.
The latest trip took place from April to May this year, when the group traveled some 80 km starting in Manaus, capital city of Amazonas state, along the Negro River all the way to the town of Santa Isabel, near the place where it meets the Branco River. “We had to hire a local guide all along the river. The Negro River is full of rocks and accidents are prone to happen,” Rodrigues said.
Due to the acidity of its waters, Rodrigues explained, the Negro River is not home to as many animal species as other parts of the forest. For this reason, the group drew nearer the tributary river. “We wanted to study the influence of the water of the Branco River on the diversity and abundance of species,” he pointed out. The expedition also gathered data to assess the role of the Negro River as a barrier for the traffic of species. “That’s why we collected it from both banks of the river,” he added.
On this trip, over a thousand animals were collected—the necessary amount to meet the demand of the research, which seeks to understand the origins of lizards in the genus Loxopholis, which reproduce asexually.
The Pico da Neblina mountain
The first expedition was carried out from October to November, 2017, on the border with Venezuela, in the region where the Pico da Neblina—Brazil’s highest mountain, nearly 3 km high—is located. Part of the mountain belongs to the Yanomami indigenous territory.
The region’s biodiversity differs greatly from that of other parts of the forest, and bears remarkable similarity to the plants and animals found in the Andes. “We know that, at altitudes higher than 1.7 thousand meters, the prevalent landscapes have nothing in common with the Amazon as it is today, with their open fields and a much colder weather than that of the forest,” Rodrigues said.
It was then that the 12 previously unreported species and a new plant variety were identified among the specimens collected. The whole set of plants are still undergoing analysis by the specialists.
In addition to the description of new animals, the material collected will be used to find evolutionary patterns in South American fauna. “A large number of animals are being studied from the genetic, morphological, and physiological perspective. Some of these studies will help gauge the extinction risk facing these species should the temperature in these places rise in the coming years,” Rodrigues went on to declare.
Each trip lasted about a month, and was joined by at least ten researchers. The work was sponsored by the São Paulo Foundation for Research Support (Fapesp).